The E-News site has been inactive since February 2011 and may contain outdated information and/or broken links. For current and up-to-date Tufts news and information, please visit Tufts Now at
Tufts University e-news

Search  GO >

this site people
Tufts University Logo Bottom Search Bottom  
left side photo

Eye On Iran

Eye On IranWith pundits and lawmakers alike speculating about the chance of the United States going to war with Iran, Fletcher professor William C. Martel lays out a course of action.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.10.06] After Iran failed to halt its uranium enrichment program by the Aug. 31 deadline imposed by the United Nations Security Council, the international community is faced with a test of its resolve toward Iran's nuclear ambitions. William C. Martel, an associate professor of international security at The Fletcher School, says that the United States must deal carefully but firmly with Iran.

"We cannot ignore this problem," he wrote in an op-ed for the Providence Journal. "If Iran is not a responsible steward of nuclear weapons, millions of innocent people could die."

Martel—who will publish a book this month entitled Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy—says Iran's nuclear ambitions have replaced Iraq as the most pressing foreign policy issue facing the United States. As evidence, he points to a timeline of actions by the Iranian government over the past several months—such as the refusal to admit UN inspectors to a uranium enrichment site.

"Iranian nuclear weapons pose a catastrophic threat to the United States and its allies," he wrote in the newspaper. Martel added that the United States is less concerned with an attack by Iran than it is with the dissemination of nuclear weapons to other groups.

"Our greatest unknown is whether Iran would provide a nuclear weapon to terrorist organizations," he wrote in the op-ed. "Most policymakers agree that that is unlikely, but that's not the same as a guarantee to the millions of Americans or Europeans who would die."

Effective diplomacy—led by the United States and involving France, Germany, Russia, Britain and China—must be pursued "aggressively, despite signs of failure.

"If Iran can develop nuclear weapons without a serious diplomatic response by the international community, the credibility of the United Nations will be further weakened," he wrote in the Journal.

But the one danger in diplomacy, he continues, is the risk that "it may mask an unsettling reality.

"What if Iran and other states, such as North Korea, conclude that diplomacy is a cover for states that do not have the will to confront states that threaten peace?" wrote Martel, who has published several books and articles on the topic of nuclear proliferation. "Will diplomacy allow Iran to develop similar capabilities [to North Korea]?"

Military intervention should be the last resort, Martel wrote, citing the unlikely prospect of an air campaign destroying all of Iran's numerous, underground nuclear facilities. And the response, he added, would be dramatic: " Iran could cut oil production and thus drive oil prices dramatically upward... It could unleash suicide bombers against the United States and Europe. Most worrisome, Iran could declare an Islamic jihad against the West."

Still, he noted, it may be unavoidable if the U.S. is unable to count on its allies.

"Unless diplomacy works, over time military intervention will emerge as the 'best' option," he wrote in the op-ed. "That is a shame, because Russia and China could convince Iran of the international community's resolve. But their strategy of reining in American power is leading them to squander the opportunity to resolve this matter diplomatically."

While Martel says war with Iran is unlikely, he says that unless the U.S. decides it could tolerate Iran as a nuclear power, war could be inescapable.

"I would bet that the American people and their leaders would never draw that conclusion—or they would live to regret it," he concluded.

Related Stories
Related Links
Featured Profile